Today’s my daughter’s third birthday. I wake her, Harper, up at 8 a.m—she’s a good sleeper, plus our usual schedule is out of whack since we no longer need to get up to be anywhere first thing in the morning. I bring her out of her room to show her the surprise my husband, Mark, and I prepped in the living room the night before: Lots of balloons with party streamers and a birthday sign.
Last week was basically the first week of social distancing. We knew everything was going to be closed for the rest of the month, so I was thinking, what are we going to do at the house now for her birthday? We thought we would get a cake, get together with her cousins who are seven and 10, and see my parents and in-laws, which is what we’ve done for past birthdays. But that, obviously, wouldn’t be possible this year. I looked on Amazon and found a bunch of fun balloon options. I ordered a pack for $20 that came with a Happy Birthday banner, five large unicorn balloons and 25 smaller-sized balloons.
We take a picture of Harper in front of her decorations, and she opens her presents. I had been really looking forward to her opening them, so she has some more toys to play with. We need all the entertainment we can get these days.
Mark and I got her a LeapFrog ice cream trolley that’s super interactive. I’m playing with her all the time now, so it’s something fun for us both. I’m a freelance writer and do freelance PR work. Some of my work has been cut-back due to the pandemic, and I’m able to take the day off to spend with her.
We make pancakes for breakfast. Earlier this month, we tapped the maple trees on my in-laws property, so we used the maple syrup from that for the pancakes.
Harper plays with her presents, and I call my parents and mention to my mom about her and my dad coming over to see Harper through the window. My parents, as well as my in-laws, are in their 60s, and my mom’s had a partial lobectomy with her lung, so I feel like she’s at higher risk. We’ve been pretty strict with not seeing any of the family.
We eat lunch, and then my parents stop by. Harper runs over to the screen door and asks them, “do you want to come in?” They say, “no, we’re just going to stay outside, we’re going to go for a walk, we just wanted to watch you open your present.” They put her gift on the doorstep and walk around to the front of the house. Our house is just one story, so the bay window at the front is ground-level, which makes it easy to interact with people on the other side of the glass. We give Harper the gift to open, and she opens it in front of the window, while my parents stand in the garden below the window watching her open it. I cry. It’s hard. After my parents leave, my in-laws come over, and we do the same thing with them.
My mother-in-law is used to seeing most of her grandkids all the time, so I think social distancing has been really hard on her. When she leaves, she says, “we’ll see you later,” and it’s sad—I’m thinking, I don’t know when that’s going to be. None of us know how long this is going to go on for.
The thing is, with Harper, she’s only three, so she doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s not going to understand that there’s a virus, and we all have to practice social distancing and not get too close to each other right now. I feel really bad. I’m sure she views this—that she can’t play with her family— as a punishment.
We don’t try to explain it, really. Harper doesn’t question anything, and she has no clue what’s going on. She just knows I’m home more often now, she’s not going to daycare, and she’s hanging out with me.
We turn on Paw Patrol, and Harper winds down for a nap. Normally, we’d try to keep the screen time to a minimum—like only letting her watch Netflix and cartoons on weekends—but that all went out the window once we started social distancing. Now, it’s whatever—whatever gets us through the day!
Harper goes down for a nap.
Harper wakes up when her cousins visit—my sister-in-law brings them over. They drop a gift on the porch, watch Harper open it and wave to her through the window. This visit is the hardest because when they leave, Harper gets really upset. She doesn’t understand why she can’t go play with them.
We bake vanilla cupcakes. We didn’t know what kind of access we would have to cakes at bakeries or the grocery store, so we decided to make cupcakes ourselves. Since it’s just the three of us—Mark, Harper, and I—celebrating, it feels extra special to bake and decorate them before we eat them.
Once the cupcakes cool, we add vanilla frosting and decorate them with sprinkles and candies we had picked up from the grocery store. I didn’t have any candles, and we couldn’t find any candles at the grocery stores we went to, so my mom dropped some off with the gift earlier today. Thank God—it’s not a birthday party unless you have your cake and you’re blowing out candles!
It’s right before dinner, but as soon as we’re done decorating the cupcakes, we put a candle in one, and we sing “Happy Birthday.” She blows it out, we eat our cupcakes, and we get ready for dinner.
We go for something easy that Harper really likes—pasta. After dinner, we have another cupcake, again with the candle and singing.
We play with the new games, the puzzles, build towers with her new blocks, and she wheels her ice cream trolley around. We watch Paw Patrol and Abby Hatcher, and we each have another cupcake, again with a candle, again singing “Happy Birthday.” We made a dozen cupcakes, so we’ll keep doing this—putting a candle in one for her, singing, and all of us having one—until they’re gone.
Mark and I put Harper to bed, and like usual, she doesn’t want us to read to her—she wants to read to herself. She brings a bunch of books into her bed, and we leave and can hear her talking to herself for 30 minutes.
Mark leaves for work, he’s on nights right now, and Harper runs over to her window, which faces the front of the house, where his truck is. She pulls the curtains back and bangs on the window and says, “Hi, daddy! Bye, daddy! Hi, daddy! Bye, daddy!” They wave to each other, and she goes to bed.
I know Harper would’ve been happy with anything on her birthday, but the thing that would have made her happiest was playing with our parents and her cousins. Because we couldn’t do that, we just wanted to bring in some new toys and make the day as fun for her as possible.
As told to Renée Reardin.
Image Credit: Karolina Kuras
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